Choosing Files for Wax Carving

I’ve been asked a dozen times in the last two days what files I use, and where I get them.  Seems this is a good time to address that.

The term carving wax is sort of misleading… In truth, while I do a little carving with things like carving relief…the majority of the work I do is actually with a file. Even with relief work, you still need to file your work down to get it to the right size and general shape.

I will be honest with you.  I tend to lean towards cheaper tools when I can.  Probably because I’m VERY good at losing small tools.  But mostly because I really do get the same use out a cheap set of files as I do an expensive set.

My favorite set of files is a Needle File Set from Harbor Fright,

Files6They are a very small, delicate set that will only set you back $3.49.  Usually buy three sets at once.  While I DO like the variety of files…the one that I use the most is the Half Round…

Half RoundThe great thing about a half round is that you can use the flat side for shaping the outsides of curved or straight items, and the round side for shaping the insides of the items.  As you can see, these files are NOT very course at all.  They are for more delicate work.  As a whole…I tend to do about 75% of all my filing with a file like this.

For larger bulk work, getting the main size down I use a course file that is much larger.  Something like….

File4This allows me to quickly get the outline of the shape I’m looking for.  BUT..once I get pretty close, I lose it for my small needle files.

So my typical file set looks like this…


You will sometimes see people using actual WAX files.  These are VERY course files that take off bulk amounts of wax.  You can take down about half an inch of wax in about 5 minutes.  This means you must be VERY careful.  While I have these in my box, I seldom use them.  I find that more control is better.  In fact…I’d much rather take my time and slowly get the shape I’m looking for.  But here is what those files look like…

Course File1

Wax Files

Care and Feeding of your Files

I find that typically when filing purple or green wax with my files…the wax is hard enough that you end up with a very fine wax dust.  Cleaning your file is easy, as all it really takes is banging the file against something hard…or at most, taking a brush to the file.
But when working with Blue wax, or sculpting wax, or even Injecting Wax (like if you were cleaning up some wax injections for casting: then you tend to end up with your file getting gummed up and being not very effective.

Wax in fileI have two ways that I typically clean the files.  Like all things, there is a more correct way…and then there is the way I often do it.
The correct way, and easy with some of your harder waxes, is to coat your file with a liberal amount of lighter fluid and then use either a toothbrush or a wire brush to scrub the wax out….


But with you are working with a really soft wax, I find it just Gums up more that I am able to get out with scrubbing.  In these cases I take either my torch on low, or a hand held butane torch, and hit the tip of the file with the torch.  I let it get the file very hot, and melt the wax away.  I’ll use a paper towel to wipe the melted wax away, and then hit it again.  Once it’s fairly clean and COOLED off, I will usually wash it real quick with lighter fluid. (Important…do NOT use lighter fluid and THEN use the torch…for what should be..Obvious reasons)
Sometimes when using a really soft wax, you have to clean your files several times over the course of a few hours.

Hope this helps and Happy Carving!!


Carving a Wax for Bronze Buckle

Obviously the first thing you need, before carving wax is….a Plan!

What are you carving?  And WHY?  Is it a creation out of your head, or are you planning to reproduce an original?
Personally…most all of my buckles are either an exact copy of an extant piece, or inspired by one.    Easy to say,  Pembroke…but we don’t all have extant pieces laying around our house (Yes…I happen to)

My two favorite sources for buckles are:

Book2Buckles 1250-1800, by Ross Whitehead.  This is a simple book, with little written documentation.  But…it has Many line drawings and pictures of actual extant buckles.  LOTS.  It gives size, type of metal, and general dates.  I like how many buckles it has…but it’s lacking, to me, in some WHERE was this buckle found, and what exactly is the year, or close to?

For that, we need to turn a Very popular book in historical groups:

Book1Dress Accessories; Medieval Finds From Excavations In London.  What makes this book so great is that it tells you EXACTLY where the item was found, what the approximate date is..and what the dating method for the the item was.  It DOES tend to list a lot of metals as “Copper Alloy”, which as I’ve discussed before…often means brass or bronze, and the exact content was never actually tested.

For this particular project, I’ve picked a double oval buckle from the Dress Accessories book.  The site the item is from is the Billingsgate Lorry park, along the Thames River.  It was dated to between 1350-1400 (I’ll go into dating methods in another blog).  The extant is listed as “Copper Alloy”,  which means either brass or bronze.  Because the extant is measuring  32×21 mm, and is thin…I’m going to guess it wasn’t brass, but the stronger bronze.   My plan was to get the copy to be close the original 32×21 mm size.


Line drawing of original extant piece, dated 1350-1400

First thing I do is draw out the rough shape of the buckle on the wax I’m going to use.  I pick a wax that is at least twice as thick as I want my finished product to be.  I use a hand saw with a wax blade to cut out the rough shape.  If you don’t have a wax blade, you could use any blade for a jewelers saw, a powered scroll saw, or even (carefully) us a razor blade.


Before I daw in the shape of the buckle on the wax, I try to get close to the rough shape on the outside lines.  If you look at the image below, you can still see that I have some lines scraped onto the wax outlining the shape of the buckle.
To do this rough shaping, I’m using a simple flat file which is fairly course.  I need to take off serious amounts of wax, and with small files I would spend days working on it.


Once I have the basic shape I draw on the inside lines of the buckle.  I do this with a Scry, which is a very sharp pointed metal tool (also used for metal), but you could easily do this with the point of a razor blade, or sharp knight.  I do NOT draw it on with pen or marker.  The reason for this is it tends wear off as I work with the wax.  Scratching it into the surface lasts, and in truth…I know I still have more to carve on my general shape if I can still see the lines.
I usually just eyeball the lines, but I’ve done a LOT of these buckles and that works for me.  Other options are making a copy of the picture of your buckle and using a light contact cement to glue it to the surface of the wax.  Then you can either use a sharp point to poke holes though the paper, and into the wax…or use a sharp razor blade to trace it.
It’s very important that you make your lines bigger than the actual buckle will be. In my case, I usually make it about twice, or half again the size.  This is because as you file away and shape the curves to the buckle…you lose size, and end up with a smaller finished product.  And its always easier to remove more wax, than to put it back.


Once I have the basic lines drawn, I need to take out the wax in the middle.  There are a few ways to do this… you can drill holes with a power drill or hand drill, or even a dremmel tool.  I personally put the tip of an X-acto blade at the center, and spin it in circles….drilling a hole though the wax.  Either way works fine.


Once I have the circles, I need to remove some bulk wax to get the shape of the buckle.  One way is to use a wax file.  This is a course file that takes away a LOT of wax FAST.  This is effective, but still kinda slow.  Another way is to insert a jewelers saw blade into the hole and cut the centers out.
I personally do something that I wouldn’t recommend, but in the fairness of being honest… I’ll tell you.  I use the razor blade to cut out chunks of the excess. The advantage is its very, very fast.  Down side?  It’s recipe for disaster.  You are likely to either cut yourself or take too much off and damage your piece.  I only recommend doing this if you are an experienced and skilled carver.


After the bulk of the wax is removed, I get to work with the actual filing.  This is were the REAL work begins.   You don’t want too course of a file, taking your time to get the outline shape to form up.


More shaping taking place.  At this point you can see that I start to do two things.        One, I’m starting to curve and shape the TOP of the buckle.  Two, I’m starting to give form to the “knopfs”.  A knopf is the side pieces that stick out.  Or sometimes they stick out on the front.  Those are knopfs.  I start shaping them….but I leave them Big for now.  As you will see, I take them down later.



In the image below you can see that I continue to do two things as I go… I’m continually filing the SIDES of the buckle (all around), to make it thinner and get the right size and shape.  I often refer to this as “worrying it down”.  It’s a slow process, filing here and there and feeling the shape.  It’s how you get clean lines.
Two, I’m creating more CURVE to the buckle, on the top.  I cut the curves deeper around the knopfs, creating detail and contour.
My favorite file for the shaping of the buckle is a “half round”.  It’s flat on one side, and curved on the other.  I use the curved side for inside the buckle, and the flat for outside.  You can get a cheap set of small files at Harbor Freight for less than $3.00.


Once I’m getting a pretty good shape and and size to the buckle, I finally start to shape down the knopf.  It’s fairly important that I wait until this point to do the knopfs, otherwise they tend to end up being disproportionate.


The last stage of filing tends to be the hardest, specially for new wax carvers.  That is the stage of CONTINUING to file.  Slowly.  Again…I call this “worrying away” at the buckle.  You need to remember that bronze weighs 10.1 times as much as wax.  Thats a LOT!  It means that while your buckle may “Feel” right too you…by the time you cast it, you have something that weighs 10 times as much.  And therefor seems Bulkier.
Also…period buckles are typically very thin and light weight.
Keep going, make it thinner.  Thats usually my advice.  By the time you are should be able to see light easily through the wax.


Once you have the wax carved it’s time to prep it for casting.  During this process you are getting little scratches in the surface.  You can’t always see them easily, but if you look close with a light, they are there.  When you cast your work…these lines become very distinct.  It is a LOT of work to clean those lines off after you cast, so you need to do it first.

There are two common ways of polishing your wax.  One method, which I don’t recommend, is heat.  This is done by taking the wax and holding it very high over a flame and moving it back and forth.  The wax will melt, causing the surface to get very smooth and shinny. The problem with this method is you MUST cast your wax right away afterward.  The heat causes changes in the wax that do not do well with your burnout cycle.  Bottom line…if you use heat, you must cast that wax within about 24 hours or your cast will very likely be bad.

The method I use is easier, and you can finish you waxes and cast them later.
Get your basic lighter fluid from the local gas station or tobacco shop.  Any kind will work.  Put a liberal amount onto a paper town and then rub down your piece. Don’t be afraid to use elbow grease on this.  What is happening is two things…first, you lighter fluid is lightly melting the wax…and second, the friction from the paper towel is adding to it.  Doing this, you can get a nice, clean mirror finish on many types of wax.



Finished buckle below:

Finished1 Finished2

Buckle14 Buckle15 Buckle16

Carving Wax – What to use and Where to get it

So you want to carve wax, and do some lost wax carving?  But…you are unsure WHAT wax to get, where to buy it…and how to carve it.

Wax comes in many sizes and shapes, from blocks to sheets to drilled out ring blanks.   And there are many different brands of wax.  But the real difference is the COLOR of the wax.  There is a Standard industry wide (though there ARE some brands that don’t follow the general rule on this, its more common than not) of what color means.  I will describe them below and what they are good for.



     Blue was is a great general carving wax.  It has the fairly low melting temperature, and is the softest of the three I’m listing here.
It melts at 200 degrees F.  This low melting point makes it very easy to melt the wax to join two pieces.  I will often heat a metal tool over a flame to gently melt a part of it.  You can even rub your fingers across it fast, creating friction, and causing it to get soft.
Because it’s fairly soft, its very easy to carve.  This is the best wax to use for things like RELIEF carving.  Say you want to carve an animal or face…THIS is the wax to use.  You have to be careful, though…because it’s soft, it can be very easy to gouge or damage it (this CAN be fixed with melting wax, but easier to have your wax right to start with, and not have to do repairs)  It also tends to get a lot of little surface scratches while you work with it.  You have to remember…EVERY TINY SCRATCH in your wax comes through in your cast.  Comes through even stronger than you see it in the wax.  So if you are doing something that needs a smooth finished surface, this is Not the wax for you.
Also, because it’s softer…it’s much harder to get a really fine detail in this wax.



This tends to be the wax I work with the most often.  I feel it’s the most versatile for general use.  It has a higher melting point, typically around 220-225 degrees F.   Besides higher melting point, it is denser and harder.  This allows you to work with the wax with some tools and techniques you can’t with the Blue wax.  For one…you can do whats called Chip Carving.  Chip Carving wax is exactly the same as with wood.  Chip carving, kerbschnitt in German, is a style of carving in which knives or chisels are used to remove small chips of the material from a flat surface in a single piece. Chip Carving wax is done in the same way as you would with wood.


Chip Carving

Filing and using files is easier with the Purple wax, as it harder and actually files away.  But because this wax files well, and can be chipped away…it is NOT good for sculpting or carving relief, like faces and animals.  I use this color wax for carving my buckles, belt ends, belt mounts…things like that.  It takes shaping well, but takes time to do so.  It also tends to develop less scratches and gouges, though it DOES scratch and will take cleaning when finished.



Green Wax it the hardest, densest and highest melting point at over 230 degrees F.  Because of how hard it is, it is VERY hard to carve and work with.  This wax is intended for work with power tools.  You can take a piece and stick it on a small jewelers lathe, and it handles it well.  Or…more common, using a variable speed rotary tool (like a Dremel or Foredom).  When working with this wax, I will usually use different types of rotary burrs, and work it to the shape I want.  I do NOT recommend trying to work this wax by hand.  It will only frustrate you.


Sculpting Wax

This wax will actually come in many different colors.  The melting temps vary greatly, you really need to just look on the box when buying.  What they ALL having in common, though, is low melting point and very soft.  This wax is great for sculpting little figures or shapes.  It can be difficult to work with, because the heat from your hands will start to melt and soften it.  I find that I have to work with this in stages…letting the temperature of the wax go down and get hard again.  From time to time I will stick it in the refrigerator or freezer to make it cold so it’s easy to work with again.


Sheet Wax

Sheet wax also comes in a few different colors, with the most common being Green, Pink and Off White.  They ALL have a fairly low melting point (around 150 degrees F), which is compounded by the fact that they are SO thin.  You have to be careful working with these…as again your hands will cause these to melt and get soft.  And STICKY!  When they start to get soft, they get sticky.
These sheets are VERY useful for many things.  You can use a razor blade to cut out shapes and stack and combine these.  Because this wax is so soft, you can actually sculpt the wax as you would a sculpting wax.

Combining Waxes

So what do you do if you need one or more of these elements in a wax you are carving??
Combine them!
You can put these different waxes together to make one whole Item.  I will go into detail in a future Blog on HOW to combine waxes, to make sure you get the best casts possible.
Lets say you are making a medallion…and want to have a relief of an animal, like a Lion.  You can make the medallion shape out of a Purple wax…get it smooth and round and the way you want it.  Then take the sheet wax and cut out the shape of the lion in wax, and place it on top of the purple.  You will then need to shape and sculpt the lion, to get it to have the look you want.

Where to BUY Wax

There are Many places to buy your wax.  Besides going to a local jewelry supply store, you can get online from many places.
I tend to buy from either: or

Good luck and HAPPY CARVING!!sd

Making of Crucibles in Period

I’m getting ready to start putting together a period furnace for doing some totally period castings.  One of the first steps, after building it, is to make some period crucibles for melting the metal.  There are many period references to the making of these, one of the best is from Theophilus, in On Divers Arts.

“Take fragments of old crucibles that have previously been used for melting copper or brass and crush them into tiny pieces on a stone.  Then take clay from which earthenware pots are made — there are two kinds of this, one white, the other gray:  the white is good for coloring gold, the other for making these crucibles.  When you have ground it for a very long time, mix the raw clay in with the other (i.e. the burnt clay that you first ground) in proportion like this.  Take any small pot and fill it twice with the raw clay and three times with the burnt clay so that there are two part of raw and three of burnt.  Put them together into a large pot and pour warm water over them;  then knead them vigorously with hammers and with your hands until the mixture is completely tenacious.  Then take a round piece of wood and cut it to the size that you want the crucible upon this and, after it has been shaped, coat it at once with dry ashes and so put it close to the fire until it is dried.  Make as many crucibles as you wish in this way.  When they have been carefully dried, put three, four, or five of them into the furnace, up to the number it can hold, and heap charcoal around them”

Note, that while he doesn’t say it, you must wax the wood you plan to shape the crucible on.  If you don’t, you will not be able to get the crucible off without breaking it.  After it you have the shape you want…hold it close to the fire for a bit to warm the crucible, and it will slide of the waxed wood easily.

Theophilus goes on to talk again about making crucibles, but specifically for gold and silver:

     “With all these things at hand, take white clay and grind it very fine.  Then take old pots in which gold or silver has previously been melted and crush them up separately.  If you do not have these, take pieces of a white earthenware pot and put them on the fire until they are red-hot, and if they do not crack, allow them to cool, and grind them up separately.  Then take two parts of ground clay and a third part of the burned pots and mix them with warm water.  Knead it well and make crucibles out of it, both large and small ones, in which you will melt gold and silver. “

Whats great about this is that this is VERY doable today.  Crucibles are expensive, and this would allow you to make your own very cheap..and at sizes you wish.

Bronze and Brass and Copper, oh My!!

Bronze and Brass and Copper, oh My!

What IS Brass and Bronze, how are they made, and what was used in period?  Probably one of the most common questions I get, and also…probably the most complicated.

Why?  Well…partially because in period they often used the words brass and bronze interchangeably, so research is difficult.  Also…when you are looking at extant pieces, to see WHAT metal used….they are often called Copper, or “a copper alloy”  Meaning…some kind of brass or bronze.  Why?  Mostly because they don’t have the time and money to break down and test EVERY single buckle or button pulled from an archeological site to see metal content (Being that they have millions of said buckles and buttons).  So they describe the item as copper or copper alloy, which it is.

Does this mean all these buttons and buckles listed as copper, or copper alloy are Copper?  No, it doesn’t.  In truth, pure copper was not as commonly used for that as brass or bronze.  Bronze was most common cast for your buckles, buttons, belt mounts and day to day items and such.  Obviously when you get into specific jewelries you have other metals that are more common, such as gold and silver (though it was VERY common to cast items in bronze and silver or gold plate them)

First, lets talk about what the difference is between Brass and Bronze.  They are both an alloy of copper…typically with about 90-95% copper, mixed with either Tin (to make Bronze) or Zinc (to make Brass)

Note that Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, AD 23 – August 25, AD 79), who wrote Natural History said that Bronze, which he referred to as Aurichalcum, could be find as a True Mineral (not made as an alloy)  This obviously is not true, and was stated so by Vanoccio Biringuccio in his book of Priotechnia (16th Century).

“It is the opinion of some concerning both of these that they are true minerals because Pliny in his Natural History calls it Aurichalcum and says that is has its own ore;    he does not say, however , where it is found, and I have not heard from anyone else that it has been found anywhere, and , surely, if it had been found when he wront, it would also be found today.”

In the case of Zinc, in period it is usually referred to as Calamine.  The name Calamine came from the Belgian town of Kelmis, whose French name is La Calamine, which had a very large Zinc mine which was active in the middle ages.

Theophilus, in On Divers Arts (First published in 1150AD) talks about Calamine:

   “ There is also found a kind of stone of a yellowish color, sometimes reddish, which is called calamine.  This is not broken up but, just as it is dug out, it is put on closely stacked, thoroughly blazing wooden logs and is burned until it is completely red-hot.  After this the stone is cooled and broken up very small and mixed with charcoal dust. Then it is allied with the aforesaid copper in a furnace built in this way.”

So the process of alloying was kinda hit and miss.  Their measurements were not exact, and as a result the percentages of Copper to Zinc or Tin varies from batch to batch.  Interestingly enough, when buying modern Brass or Bronze, you get MANY different mixtures of alloys depending on who you buy your metal from.

Giringuccio talks about having witnessed the process done by masters:

   “The Masters whom I saw had made in a large room a furnace, much longer than it was wide, and built with a certain kind of stone that by its nature resisted conned firing without melting and burning up.  Where the fire entered the furnace it was almost entirely open.  The body of the furnace was half or more underground;  the vault was low;  at the top and bottom there were everywhere little air holes;  and above in the vault there were two square opening through which the crucibles containing the copper to be colored could be put in  and removed.  These were then close with little fitted clay shutters.  The crucibles were made of Valencia clay, or they were brought ready-made from Vienna;  they were very large and I believe that those which I saw were about two-thirds of a pound, and I understand they had a capacity of fifty or sixty pounds of metal.

   For this process they placed in each one of the vessels twenty-five pounds of German rosette copper broken in pieces, and they filled up the rest to within two rita of the rim with powders of a mineral earth, yellowish in color and very heavy, that they called Calamine.  The rest of the empty space in the crucible they filled with powdered glass.  Then they put the crucibles in the vault through the above-mentioned openings and arranged them in pairs on the bed at the bottom.  They then applied a melting fire for twenty-hours and after this time they found the material entirely fused, and the copper, which was red before, had become a smooth and lovely yellow, almost like 24-carat gold in color.”

(Note:  Biringuccio refers to covering this with powdered glass.  I believe he is referring to what was called Glass Salt or Sal Alkali.  Salt was often used as a flux, instead of Borax, to prevent oxidation)

In Theophilus’ book, On Divers Arts, he also talks about making of Brass and Bronze:

  “And when the crucibles are red-hot take some Calamine, about which I spoke above, that has been [calcined and] ground up very fine with charcoal, and put into each of the crucibles until they are about one-sixth full, then fill them up completely with the above mentioned copper, and cover them with charcoal.  From time to time poke the holes below with a slender hooked stick, so that they may not become blocked and also so that thrashes may come out and more draft may enter.  Now, when the copper is completely melted, take a slender, long, bent iron rod with a wooden handle and stir carefully so that the Calamine is alloyed with the copper.  Then with long tongs raise each crucible slightly and move them a little from their position so that they may not stick to the hearth.  Put Calamine in them all again as before and fill them with copper and cover them with charcoal.  When it is once more completely melted, stir again very carefully and remove one crucible with the tongs and pour everything into little furrows cut in the ground.  Then put the crucible back in its place.  Immediately take calamine as before and put it in, and on top as much of the coper as you have cast as it can hold.  When this is melted as before, stir it and add calamine again and fill it again with the coper you cast and allow it to melt. Do the same with each crucible.  When it is all thoroughly melted and has been stirred for a very long time pour it out as before and keep it until you need it.”

As you can see…not very exact.  The results would vary greatly, as do the metal content of our extant pieces.    It was found that alloying with Tin, rather than Zinc, made the alloy much stronger. Thus did that become the more common alloy method, though the processes are the same for Zinc/Brass and Tin/Bronze.  This is one of the primary reasons that museums don’t bother a great deal with breaking down metal content of averages pieces.  They ARE simply an alloy of copper… how much?  It will change from piece to piece.


A couple of things to add in closings.  First is to address word origins.  They started using the word brass around the 10th Century.. Bras, Braes, and Bres Copper.  Before that Pliny used the word Aes, which we see Theophilus use (He WAS, after all, a Benedictine Monk). The word Bronze, though, wasn’t used until the early 18th Century, first by the French.

Around 1300AD they started using the word Latten (From old French, Laton)  I’ve heard reference from people that Latten was used to specifically mean a certain brass, specially for making bells.  This is actually not true.  The word is used to describe BOTH brass and bronze, and is used for those alloys used for most anything.  Not just casting, but also sheet metal and wire and such.

Last, Pliny refers to Aurichalcum.  This actually came originally from the Latin word Orichalcum, which means “Mountain Copper”.  The Romans transliterated it as “Aurichalcum” which they took to literally mean “Gold Copper” (because of its coloring)  While the word Aurichalcum is used throughout history, it is not as commonly used as the other words mentioned above.

Last, I want to talk about LEAD.  Yes, that very bad word LEAD.  While lead is NOT found naturally in Copper, as Theophilus thought:

“It cannot be gilded, since the copper had not been completely purge of  lead before the alloying.”

The fact remains that Lead is still VERY common in the metals we use today.  PLEASE…trust me when I say, you do NOT want to cast metals that contain Lead!  It just isn’t worth it.  Stay away.  How common is Lead in casting metals today?  I find that somewhere between 60-70% of the Brass and Bronze alloys that are sold online today (from common places like Otto Frei and Rio Grande) have lead.  PLEASE look at your alloy contents before buying.

Further…do NOT cast random metals that people give you or that you “Find” in second hand store, or brass from old handles and such.  These almost ALWAYS contain Lead.

This was a long one folks.  And I still feel like there is so much more to write.  I think I’ll take a break from this for now, and revisit as time goes by.  There is SO much more I could drill down on this stuff…but…it all takes time…

Glass Finger Rings

As I’m talking with my awesome friend, Master Charles de Bourbon, about learning to work with glass… I was mentioning to him I’m interested in making Glass Finger Rings, like the ones that Theophilus talks about in On Divers Arts (Printed 1150AD). That made me decide to take a minute and post the information on here…because I think it worth looking at.  The image I’ve posted (the best of my knowledge) is from 13th Century Eastern Europe (though I don’t know what site its from).

From On Divers Arts, Theophilus  1150AD

Book of Glass, Chapter 31  Finger Rings

  Finger rings are also made of glass in this way.  Build a small glass melting furnace in the way described above;  then get some ashes, salt, copper powder, and lead.  After compounding these, select the colors of glass that you want, build a fire underneath with wood, and grit them.  Meanwhile get yourself a piece of wood, a span png and finger thick.  A third of the way down it pale a wooden disk a palm in diameter so that you can hold two thirds of the wood in your hand and the disk lies above your hand firmly fastened to the wood, while a third of the wood projects above the disk.  The wood should be cut to a point at the end and fitted into a piece of iron just as the shaft is fitted into the head of a lance.  The iron should be a foot long and the wood set into it so that they are flush at the join.  From here let the iron gradually taper up to the end, where ti should be perfectly sharp.  Near the window of the furnace on the right side (i.e. on your left) place a wooden post as think as an arm, set in the ground and reaching up to the top of the window.  Near the window on the left of the furnace (i.e. on your right) there should stand a little trough made of clay.
  Then, when the glass is melted, take the wood with the disk and iron, which is called the spit, and dip its end into the pot of glass.  Drawing it out with the little blob that will have stuck to it, drive it hard into the wooden post, so that a hole is made through the glass.  Immediately heat it in the flame and strike the tool twice on the top of the post in order to stretch (and loosen) the glass, and with all speed rotate your hand together with the tool so that the ring may become more circular;  and by rotating it like this, cause the ring to descend to the disk, so that it becomes uniform and smooth.  Throw it off at once into the little trough.  Work up as much as you want in the same way.
  If you want to give variety to the rings with other colors, when you have picked up the glass blob and pierced it with the pointed iron, take some glass of a different color out of another pot and put a thread of it around the glass of the ring.  When it has been in the flame as above, finish it in the same way.  You can also put [a small lump of] glass of another kind on the ring, as you would mount a gem, and heat it in the flame so that it sticks fast.

It’s interesting to note that the original translator of the Latin, in 1961, felt that these rings were not meant for wearing on the finger, and translated them as just “glass rings”.  But when taking into account his suggestion of adding a simulated Gem to the ring leads modern interpretation to believe these WERE meant to be worn on the fingers.

Setting up a Metal Work Shop, Circa 1150

I’ve been reading On Divers Arts, by Theophilus.  This is a book that was written over a period of time, believed to be around 1150 or earlier.  There is a lot of debate of WHEN exactly, and WHO Theophilus was.  There is the belief that he was a 10th Century Benedictine monk, living in Cologne.  Another is that Theophilus was actually Benedictine monk and well known metal worker, Roger of Helmarshausen, who wrote this between 1110 and 1140.

It is unclear still, but what IS known, is that he manuscript WAS written mid 12th Century, and therefor gives us one of our earliest manuscripts on Metal Work (it does cover painting and glass work, as well)  It was originally written in latin, and has been translated many times over the years, this version being translated by John Hawthorne and Cyril Smith.

I find it interesting that he starts off the book of metal work with very detailed plans for setting up a metal work shop.  In fact, I WISH I had a concise modern version of this when I set up my work shop.  Might have helped a bit.
I want to share, though, a couple passages… the first is setting up the shop its self, layout and all that.  The second is the making of a crucible.  Wow!  And actual written out description of making a crucible, dating back to the mid 12th Century!!  Looking at this, its not far off to what is done today.  The crucible entry will be done later.

First the shop!  (this is straight from the book)

Chapter 1 The Construction of the Workshop

Build a high, spacious building whose length extends to the east.  In the south wall put as many windows as you wish and are able to, provided that there is a space of five feet between any two windows.  Then, with a wall rising to the top, divide off half the building for casting operations and for working copper, tin and lead.  with another wall divide the remaining half into two parts, one for working gold, the other for silver.  The winnows should not be more than a foot above the ground level and they should be three feet high and two feet wide.

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Chapter 2 The Seat for the Workmen

Then in front of a window, dig a trench, three feet long and two feet wide, a foot and a half from the window wall and at right angles to it.  Line the trench all around with wooden oars, of which two in the middle opposite the window should rise half a foot above the trench.  On these fasten a table, three feet by two, over the trench to cover the knees of the men sitting in it, and at right angles.  the table should be so flat and smooth that any little bits of gold or silver that fall on it can be carefully swept up.

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Chapter 3  The Forge for the Work

Against the wall near the window on the left-hand side of the man sitting, there should be set into the ground a wooden board three feet long, two feet wide, and almost two fingers thick.  When this is firmly in place, it should have a hole in its center, a finger in diameter and four fingers above ground level.  There should also be a narrow piece of wood, four fingers wide and as long as the larger board, fitted to it in front and fixed with wooden pegs.  In the front of this, set in position another board of the same width and length, so that between the two there shall be a space of four fingers, and fix it firmly in place from the outside with two or three stakes.  Then take some freshly dug clay, neither kneaded nor mixed with water, and start by putting a little of it into this space and compact it well with a round piece of wood;  then put in some more and ram it down again.  Continue in this way until two thirds of the space is filled, leaving a third empty.  Then take away the board in front, and with a long knife trim the clay hard with a slender piece of wood.  After this take some clay that has been kneaded and mixed with horse-dung, and build up the forge and a hearth for it.  Coat the wall [of the building] also so that it will not be burnt by the fire.  Pierce the clay through the hole at the back of the board with a slender piece of wood.  Build all smiths’ forges in this way.

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Ok.  So…as he says, build ALL smiths’ forges this way!  I find it curious how set he is on the details of this, all the way to which way the building faces and where you put the forge on the wall.  Of course, there is to this day, many “best practices” involved with metal work and how to do it, including the set up.  But these are very exact.
Also….I appreciate the reference to setting up the tables for the capture and collection of gold and silver debris from working with those metals.  Even to this day, when working with precious metals we must be careful and have a plan for the recovery of extra metal, and gold and silver dust, cast off from your work.

Image above is View of a 16th Century goldsmiths’s shop.  Engraved by Stehanus, 1576 (British Museum Print Room)

History of Metal Work & Metallurgy